Bama's Bizarre Events And Tigers-Tide Rivalry

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn and SEC sports.

In almost 34 years in the newspaper business, I have not witnessed anything like the events of the past two weeks. Bizarre isn't a strong enough word to describe the events that unfolded at the University of Alabama.

Who would have believed when Alabama finished spring practice last month that even before summer arrived Mike Price would be gone and Mike Shula would be the head coach at Alabama? It's a sad, even tragic, turn of events for Price and his family. For Shula, it's a remarkable opportunity that he surely thought would come years down the road if at all. There are winners and there are losers in this tale.

WINNER: Alabama president Robert Witt. If he really bucked the Board of Trustees, which I doubt, he showed himself to be a strong leader. Even if he didn't, the perception is that he did.

LOSER: Alabama athletic director Mal Moore. A good man who cares deeply for his school and is extremely conscientious, Moore will eventually take the fall for the circus Price brought to Tuscaloosa.

WINNER: Tommy Tuberville. No matter what anyone says, when your rival is in turmoil that's good for you. I promise you Michigan's Lloyd Carr shed no tears when Michigan State made a change during the season. Nobody at Alabama was disappointed by the turmoil that engulfed Auburn when Terry Bowden left halfway through the 1998 season. Tuberville knows and likes Price and, no doubt, feels badly for him. But in football terms, he must go to bed at night smiling.

LOSER: Price and his family. They have lost more than anyone. Price has lost lots of money, but he already has a lot of money. He lost his reputation, and that's the biggest loss of all. Sadly, it is very unlikely that he will ever get it back.

WINNER: Shula. At 37, he'd never been seriously mentioned for any head coaching job. Now he's the head coach at Alabama, his alma mater. He must wake up at night and wonder if he'd dreaming.

LOSER: The Alabama football team. Maybe the players can adjust to a new offense, new coaches and all the rest in three weeks of preseason practice. Maybe, but I doubt it. The 2003 season was already going to be their last hurrah for a while. The impact of scholarship reductions hurt in 2004. Now, barring something akin to a miracle, the coming season won't be much either.

WINNER: Destiny. The stripper who entertained Price in Pensacola is doing all she can to cash in on her notoriety, and she probably will be able to.

LOSER: Every coach who must now face a suspicious wife every time he leaves town.

WINNER: Paul Finebaum. I'm not fond of his name-calling, belittling style, but my guess is that his ratings skyrocketed.

LOSER: The Alabama Board of Trustees. They were either too wimpy to take the heat for keeping Price or too wimpy to take the heat for cutting him loose.

WINNER: Arety's Angels. For those who frequent such establishments, it will become the place to go in Pensacola. The club owners aren't shy about trying to capitalize. Last week, a sign in the club's parking lot bragged it was home of the "$10 million lap dance."

LOSER: Sammy's, another Pensacola club that features women taking their clothes off. The owners should have sent a limousine to pick up Price at the hotel.

WINNER: Columnists across the Southeast who found themselves with an unexpected wealth of material.

LOSER: Sylvester Croom. He must know now that he will never get the opportunity to be the head coach at his alma mater. Is it because he is black? In a word, yes. But before anyone trashes Alabama, it must be noted that it would probably be no different at any other SEC school. To be again reminded of how far we have to go is another sad spinoff of this sad story.

I could go on, but that's enough. Price will eventually go on with his life and Alabama football will survive yet another crisis. Price will be no more than an oddity in the record book, the head coach who never coached a game. My hope is that something good can come out of this sordid tale. Mike Shula is a good man. Tommy Tuberville is a good man. I don't believe Shula will be referring to Auburn as "the school down the road." Maybe, between them, Shula and Tuberville can help take some of the nastiness out of what has become an ugly and unhealthy rivalry in our state. Maybe, but probably not.

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